BMW to stop UK production of electric Minis and move to China | BMW

BMW is to cut all UK production of the award-winning electric Mini and relocate it to China, dealing a blow to hopes that Britain could be a global hub for manufacturing zero-emission vehicles.

BMW makes 40,000 electric Minis a year at its Cowley plant on the outskirts of Oxford.

In an article published by The Times on Saturday, it was confirmed that production of electric vehicles from BMW Oxford will end next year as part of plans to revamp the automaker’s lineup from 2024.

The move is a further blow to the UK’s ambition to become a world leader in electric car manufacturing, following Honda’s decision to leave Britain in 2016.

BMW’s joint venture with Great Wall Motor means that their hatchbacks and small SUVs will now be manufactured in eastern China, as will the next-generation zero-emission Mini Aceman.

A new electric version of the largest Mini model, the Countryman, will, BMW has confirmed, be manufactured at its Leipzig factory.

The announcement follows confirmation by Mini boss Stefanie Wurst last week that a convertible will join the all-new Mini Cooper range – due to launch in 2024 – and that it will “come home” in 2025 with UK production at Mini’s Oxford factory.

Petrol-powered Mini Coopers will be built at Oxford, in three-, five-door and convertible forms, for export to markets including the US, Japan and the Middle East, with BMW confirming it will not will not stop production of Minis with internal combustion engines until 2030.

BMW’s move comes after reports that Britain’s only planned large-scale battery factory, being built by Britishvolt in north-east England, will go bankrupt if it does not receive a program of £200m bailout.

Only a year ago, Boris Johnson, then Prime Minister, promised at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow to fund a ‘billion pound electric car revolution’ in the UK ‘creating hundreds of thousands of jobs”. His predecessor, Theresa May, wanted Britain to become “a world leader” in the manufacture of electric vehicles and made it one of the “pillars” of her short-lived industrial strategy.

Kwasi Kwarteng, who was removed as chancellor on Friday and replaced by Jeremy Hunt, said last year when he was business secretary that the electrified car industry would be “front and center of Britain to build back better”.

These commitments – and the seven-year model cycles typically used by automakers – indicate that the Oxford plant will not assemble any new electric vehicles for the next decade.

The historic Cowley plant has been the subject of speculation that BMW wants to sell the plant to Great Wall, which has made no secret that its strong sales push in the European electric market will eventually see it seek its own production facilities in Europe.

Wurst denied this, stating, “Oxford will always be Mini’s home.” She said the decision to halt assembly of the Electric Mini in the UK was unrelated to post-Brexit supply constraints and cross-border friction with the EU, or the lack of a giga-factory nearby, but because the Cowley factory was operating inefficiently by having to produce electric and petrol cars on the same line.

She said that when electric Minis were built again in Britain, it would be on an assembly line platform developed by Great Wall, and that the existing Cowley lines would be removed as part of a major overhaul of factory.

“Oxford is not suitable for electric vehicles,” she said. “It will need renovation and investment.” When asked when the Electric Minis would return to Oxford, she replied: “There is no date.”

When asked if Oxford might at some point in the future build both Minis and Great Wall brands such as Ora and Wey, she replied: “Maybe.”

A Great Wall spokesman confirmed that the possibility of producing its own vehicles at Cowley had been the subject of “internal discussion”.

Wurst also dismissed suggestions that British consumers might be hesitant to buy a Chinese-made Mini, saying she could “see no reason” because British motorists are already buying some Chinese-made BMW models.

A BMW spokesperson said: “Oxford plays an important role in the production strategy of the BMW Group, with its high degree of flexibility, competitiveness and expertise and will remain at the heart of Mini production.”

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